Thursday, September 14, 2006

Is it Islamic fascism?

I got some very nice comments from Jay Bullock on my 9-11 piece in the Journal-Sentinel, although Jay objected to my use of the term "Islamic fascism" as have others. Jay has a longer post at his blog objecting to the use of that term and praising Russ Feingold for objecting to it. I think its worth responding to and, since, I can never access his comments (due, I think, to some incomprehensible techno-incompatibility), I'll do it here.

Jay and Russ say that whatever Islamic terrorism is, it's not fascist. Russ doesn't explain why (I suspect he hasn't a clue), but Jay, a much more rigorous thinker, won't punt on that. But he cites David Neiwert who relies on a highly tendentious and somewhat dated definition of fascism as a "dictatorship against the left" and, therefore, something that can only be found in decaying, capitalist democracies. As Jonah Goldberg (who has a book coming out on this) points out here (but you need a subscription), this is a Marxist-influenced proposition that has been discredited among scholars of fascism who cannot, themselves, agree on what it means. Fascism may be a term that, as Orwell said almost 60 years ago, means little more than "something not desirable."

I think there's a lot of truth in that. Fascism does not have the precise technical meaning that Jay and Feingold think it does. In common parlance, it denotes, in its narrowest meaning, an authoritarian ideology that exalts whatever animates it (race, nation, religion) above all else and seeks to exercise total control over all who it are subject to it. As we have experienced it, is a socialist enterprise (even if it "allows" private enterprise to exist) which is consistent with the idea of total control.

Seen in this way, it is not off base to describe Islamic terrorists as fascists, although, in doing so, we are not using a very precise term.

But what Feingold (and, I am afraid, Jay) really object to is not the noun, but the adjective. Feingold says that not all Muslims are terrorists and this is true. But that does not change the fact that the terrorists we are concerned with not only "happen to be" Muslims, but are motivated by Islam. Not all Muslims become, if we can use the term, "fascists" but these Muslims have.

Recognizing that, Jay goes for a moral equivalence between Christian fundamentalists and Muslims. How can we suggest that some realm of Islam is fascist, when we get upset about people who say that fundamentalists have hijacked the GOP in the way that People Who Do Bad Things For Reasons That Have Nothing To Do With Religion have hijacked Islam.

To suggest an equivalence between a global Islamic terrorist movement and any nontrivial faction of Christianity is simply to quit being serious. First, Jay ignores the distinction between evangelicals and fundamentalists. Evangelicals have influenced the GOP (as many groups influence both parties), fundamentalists have not. Second, I am unaware of any Christian jihad. You can dislike people who oppose abortion and gay marriage, but they are not blowing up your subway stop. They are not stoning people who do not live in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Perhaps, as Jay suggests, it is politic to avoid the elephant in the living room, i.e., the connection between a particular interpretation of Islam and terror. Bush tried that. But in suggesting that he was simply going after "evildoers", he fell into the trap of suggesting that the war on terror was simply a fight against a discrete band of criminals, and not an ideological movement. That made it hard to explain why he has done some of the things he has done. His critics suggested that he was wrong unless he was going after the very individuals who perpetrated 9-11.

The war on terror is larger than that and Bush, finally, has begun to explain that.


Amy said...

Excellent assessment of this situation.

I don't understand the left's obsession with PC-language. It's quite clear to me that - no matter what we call them - those who engage in acts of terror ultimately have the same goal(s) in mind for us all: conversion or death.

Spending time quibbling about what we call them - as Feingold did - merely makes us look weak, stupid, and completely incapable of prioritizing serious issues.

nee Julius said...

Too true. In their zeal to avoid offending any non-Christian religion, they avoid the fundamental point. It isn't we who define them as Islamic, it is a self-definition. It may not be a religious war on our side, but by their OWN words, it is a religious war on theirs.

David Neiwert said...

What exactly is "dated" about my discussion of fascism?

I only happen to cite the bulk of the serious scholarship of fascism of the past half-century, including Oxford scholar Roger Griffin, considered one of the world's leading experts on the subject, and Robert O. Paxton, whose Anatomy of Fascism was published in 2004.

Perhaps if you can demonstrate some actual, serious scholarship of the subject yourself -- beyond, of course, political hacks like Jonah Goldberg, who is only a scholar of mendacity -- you might be taken seriously.

Otherwise, your discussion here is about as lightweight as the megabytes required to post this nonsense.